Friday, December 28, 2007

I Love My New mp3 Player!

Yes, I got an mp3 player for Christmas - not a fancy ipod, but a very servicable (and pretty blue) SanDisk. It turns out that everyone in our family got an mp3 player for Christmas - we're quite digital around here!

After a little false start, I have been able to get music from CDs, music from Rhapsody, and audiobooks from the library onto my new device. I'm sitting here at the computer listening to some classic Newsboys songs.

What I'm really looking forward to is that the kids can put on their headphones (the grandparents gave them around-the-ear headphones - not the expensive Bose ones, but nice nonetheless) while they do schoolwork and listen to music. Of course, I'll probably have to check that they're not listening to audiobooks while they're doing schoolwork - Wild Man would probably do it if he could get away with it! But, they are pretty acoustically insulated from the rest of the world when they have the headphones on, which is nice. Of couse, I have to wear ear buds so that I can still hear important sounds from the rest of the world - like kids asking questions, the phone ringing, etc. Then again, maybe I'll get some around-the-ear headphones, after all. I could stand to be acoustically insulated.

Mousetrap!

"Mousetrap! I wanted to play Mousetrap! You roll your dice, you move your mice, nobody gets hurt!"

Those of you who are Veggie Tales lovers (as we are in this family) will recognize the quote above as being from Bob the Tomato in "The Toy that Saved Christmas". Back when Ga'Hoole Girl was 3 or 4 years old, she would act out that section of the scene. She would turn upside down like Bob was in the snowbank and then say that line just like in the movie.

We now own the game Mousetrap - yippee. Wild Man got it from a friend on Christmas Eve. He wants to play it all the time. The deal with mousetrap is that the mice travel around the board, building a mousetrap the whole time. At the end, the players try to get each other on a certain spot and trap them under the trap. The trap is kind of like a Rube Goldberg machine. My kids love it, especially since they love the Mythbusters episodes where they build something like this.

Ga'Hoole Girl got a new Zelda game from her grandparents. She had requested it, so I sent the info to the grandparents. What I didn't realize is that this game, which has three games from the old Nintendo systems and a trial version of the first one for GameCube, is something of a collector's item. Ga'Hoole Girl is just thrilled with her new game. She and Wild Man have been playing frequently over the last several days. They're going to be in for a rude awakening next Wednesday!

A Tale of Two Adventures in Domesticity

It was the best of time, it was the worst of time . . . . Oh, wait. Wrong beginning. This Christmas season, I have had two polar opposite cooking experiences. I like the call the first one "The Tale of the Three Meat Thermometers." Perhaps not the catchiest title in the world, but it's descriptive.

The Tale of the Three Meat Thermometers
On the day after Christmas, we celebrated with a big Christmas dinner. I started up the turkey, like I do every major holiday. Now, I usually do a pretty good job with turkey - the white meat comes out moist and everything. After the requisite four hours of cooking, the meat thermometer hadn't moved a bit. I decided it was probably broken. Mr. Math Teacher had a meat thermometer on the grill, so he chopped it out of the snow and cleaned it up so I could use it. After another 30 minutes, the temperature was only 140 (was supposed to be 18). I had asked Mr. Math Teacher to go to the store and told him not to wait for the turkey since it was clearly not close to done. At the store, he picked up a new meat thermometer for me. By now, I was starting to suspect that there was a problem with thermometer #2. So, I put in thermometer #3 to find that the meat temperature was actually above 190. I made lots of gravy. I have no idea how moist the white meat is because we just all put tons of gravy over it.

The Tale of the Cool New Pressure Cooker
The next night, I decided to try out my new pressure cooker from my parents. We had some venison stew meat that we expected to have to cook for a couple of hours, so I decided to try a venison and barley soup. I browned the venison right in the pot - part of why this is such a cool toy! Then, I added some onion soup mix, beef bouillon, spices, and barley. After the 15 minutes that I tried at first, the meat was good, but the barley wasn't ready. After another 15 minutes, the meat was wonderful, but the barley was a little chewy (it's not pearled barley). After only 10 more minutes, the dish was ready. Wild Man looked at it with some trepidation, but consented to try it. He pronounced it "delicious"! And there was only one pot to cook. A happy family and minimal clean-up. Does it get any better than this?!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The three day Christmas

This year, we decided to make our Christmas celebration three days long. And it's only partly because I had a migraine on the 24th and 25th.

December 24th, Christmas Eve, is the day we did the religious celebration of Christmas. Mr. Math Teacher was at church for rehearsal then all three services (he plays bass guitar). Wild Man went with him and "helped" in the nursery (the children's director says that he wasn't causing problems). Ga'Hoole Girl and I relaxed around the house until time for church. We went to the third church service since Mr. Math Teacher had to stay the whole time anyway. After church, we each opened a gift and then Mr. Math Teacher read the Christmas story from Luke 2. Then, off to bed to await the coming of Santa.

December 25th, Christmas Day, was our gift-giving day. We got up relatively early - we actually had to wake Wild Man at 7am - and spent the next hour or so opening presents. Instead of working all day to clean house and cook a fancy dinner, we decided to spend all day playing with our new presents. [Yes, it was also partly because I still had a migraine, but we all liked getting a whole day to play without having to cook.]

December 26th, the day after Christmas, was our day to celebrate with a big meal. Our meal was rather simple this year, but delicious. We had turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, iced tea, and sparkling grape juice. It was a lovely meal.

I think we enjoyed our time a little more this year since we didn't feel pressed to get a bunch done in a short period of time. We still have until January 2 until we have to get back to "real" life. Until then, more playtime!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

White Christmas!

One of the nice things about living this far up North is that we usually have a White Christmas. But, I think today's snow was a little much, even for "The Great White North". They are predicting that we will have 8-12 inches of new snow by the time this storm passes. Church was even cancelled this morning - not a frequent occurrence. But, we will have nice, fresh, white snow for Christmas.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Your Christmas Spirit Level: 75%

Your Christmas spirit is almost as big as Christmas itself. Christmas is definitely your thing.
You celebrate Christmas with enthusiasm. You love every minute of the holidays.

Your Christmas spirit is inspiring to everyone who runs into you during the holidays.
You make everyone's day just a little bit brighter. And that's what the holidays are all about!

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Christmas Turkey

As of two days ago, our frozen turkey was moved to the refrigerator to thaw. Why is this a big deal, you may wonder? Doesn't everyone put their frozen turkey in the fridge a week early to thaw? Well, actually, no. I have not always remembered to thaw the turkey, so there have been several years (Thanksgiving or Christmas) in which I have been trying to thaw a turkey in a sink of cold water the night before I need to cook it. What a mess! And, we don't have a big sink that holds an 18 pound turkey any more. So, I am quite proud that Mr. Math Teacher and I remembered to put the turkey in the fridge this year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Christmas Dress

It's that time of year again - time to buy the kids dressy clothes. Now, you must understand something. My kids rarely wear dressy clothes. Our church is rather casual, so Sunday wear is just regular clothes, but clean. Wild Man did go through a period a few years ago where he really enjoyed wearing dress clothes, but now he tends to wear jeans since he's usually angling to go to a friend's house. Ga'Hoole Girl likes to wear dresses, but she's been growing so much lately that she only has a few dresses.

But, Christmas is different. Both kids are happy to dress up in fancy clothes for this time of year. The problem, though, is finding clothes. It's pretty straightforward for Wild Man. We picked up a shirt and pair of pants at Penney's with no problem.

The issue comes with Ga'Hoole Girl. She's 12 years old and is out of girls clothes. She is a size 6 in Juniors or Misses clothing. But, most of the Junior clothes are inappropriate or downright sleazy!! Not only do Mr. Math Teacher and I not want her wearing such things, but she doesn't want to wear them. So, how to find an outfit that is pretty, covers everything, but still stylish. I was prepared for a long, drawn out shopping experience this week, but was pleasantly surprised. After a quick stop at Barnes and Noble, I said, "Let's stop over here at Dress Barn and see what they have." Ga'Hoole Girl really wanted to go to Coldwater Creek, but that's in the mall and their prices are much higher. But she agreed to Dress Barn. And, would you believe it, she loved the first thing we found - and it fit! She got a black velvet skirt with a flared bottom and a silver and green sweater. Can you tell that I'm thrilled?! No more Christmas shopping. We're done. And, no trips to the mall!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My favorite blogs

Part of my daily routine has been to check out my favorite blogs, so I figured I would share them with you - several of them are linked on the side of the page. Now, you need to understand that I do not always agree with everything that is said by these bloggers. I am interested in a variety of viewpoints, so don't think I've become a 5 point Calvinist because I list a couple of reformed blogs. I hope you find some of them interesting as well.

1. Internet Monk - this is the personal webspace of Michael Spencer. He reviews books and blogs about various "post-evangelical" topics. Today's post, for example, is about how we need to be far less interested in whether other people are Christians and far more interested in how to be better Christians.

2. Writing and Living is written by another homeschooling mom. She reviews books, but also just writes about life as a mom. Her blog is really funny, too!

3. Making Home is another blog written by a homeschooling mom. Her posts are about theology, life, family, etc. Her posts can be rather challenging for me.

4. Crunchy Con is the blog of Rod Dreher, a fellow LSU alum and a writer for a Dallas newspaper. He is the author of the book, Crunchy Cons, which I recommend. His posts are usually about political and social issues. He posts several times each day.

5. Smart Christian is a site that contains all kinds of content for Christians. I usually read the main page which contains links to sites of social, political, and religious interest.

6. Thinking Christian is the blog of Tom Gilson. His articles are usually of religious interest. Check out his good set of articles about "The Golden Compass".

7. Old Earth Creation Homeschool is a blog by a homeschooling mom who is interested in teaching children science from an Old Earth Creation point of view. She lists useful links and articles. She is currently on hiatus because she is taking a class and involved in writing papers and taking tests herself.

8. The Evangelical Outpost is an evangelical blog (as it's name implies!). My favorite part is the "33 things" on Mondays, which is a list of 33 interesting links. Check out this weeks, particularly the first item, which is a YouTube video.

9. Dr. Mohler's Blog is part of Dr. Mohler's website. I don't always agree with his conclusions, but I appreciate his thinking about lots of social issues.

10. Challies Dot Com is the website of Tim Challies. Tim is a reformed thinker who writes on social and reformed topics as well as doing book reviews. Good site.

These are the ten that I check most regularly. I hope you enjoy the list.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Reviews - December 16

I have been on something of a kick on reading about 16th century England. I've already blogged about Innocent Traitor, a historical novel about Lady Jane Grey. That was what kind of got me going on this tangent. So, here are my current reviews:

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
I really enjoyed this book about Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne Boleyn. The author took some liberties with the historical information. For example, Mary is believed to be the older sister of Anne, but the book says that she is younger. In addition, Mary was known to be quite promiscuous when she was growing up in France, but Ms. Gregory has Mary spending only some of her childhood in France and being much more virtuous than history suggests. But, the book itself is quite interesting and a real page-turner. The downside is that there is much s*xual content, not all of which was necessary to the plot. That being said, the plot itself is necessarily rather s*xual, being about Anne Boleyn. I recommend this book if you enjoy historical fiction and the s*xual content doesn't turn you off too much. It is certainly, though, an adult-only book!

The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir
Ms. Weir is the author of Innocent Traitor. This book, though, is an historical account of Henry VIII and his wives (she has also written other books about this time in history). The book is quite thick, but I finished it within about two weeks. It is absolutely fascinating. Naturally, there is lots of information about King Henry VIII himself. He is much more complex than I had realized, and was quite interested in theology. She also includes lots of other historical information about England and the rest of Europe.

The history of the wives of this king is also the history of the Reformation in England. Henry VIII established the Church of England during his lifetime, partly because of his desire to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, partly because he wanted to consolidate power, but partly for theological reasons. Several of his wives had theological interests, which affected Henry and his rule. After Henry VIII died, Edward took the throne, and he was interested in Protestantism. After his death, though, Queen Mary was determined to make England Catholic once again. She executed so many that she earned the nickname "Bloody Mary". Elizabeth, though, brought England back to Protestantism when she took the throne. I learned from this book that much of Elizabeth's (and Edward's) education was from tutors who were interested in Protestantism - tutors that had been selected by Katherine Parr.

My favorite queens were Katherine of Aragon and Katherine Parr - and not because we share a first name! I appreciated that Katherine of Aragon stood up to Henry VIII. She believed that she was truly married to him and she refused to be bullied by him, even though she knew that he had the power of life and death over her. She also stood up to him because she wanted her daughter to be legitimate. Katherine Parr interests me because she was such a thinker. She actually had two books published in her lifetime - quite a feat in the 16th century! Much of her thinking was on religious topics, which almost got her into trouble with Henry VIII. She had a tendency toward Protestantism, but kept it generally secret until Henry died and Edward became king. But, she influenced Edward and Elizabeth toward Protestantism by choosing their tutors.

I thought this book was fascinating and would recommend it for anyone who enjoys reading history. It was well-written and interesting.

From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
This is a book for children that the kids and I listened to during our recent vacation. The premise is that two children decide to run away from home (in the New York suburbs) and stay in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During their stay in the museum, they come across a mystery about a statue that they feel compelled to try to solve. The story is funny and sweet. We listened to it on audiobook, which was a good way to enjoy it. The writing is excellent, and the reading was also quite well done. I strongly recommend this for about age 8 and up.

Mr. Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange
This is basically Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy's point of view. I absolutely loved it! It is a pretty short read, but very interesting. It is written as Mr. Darcy's diary entries from the time just before Mr. Bingley leases Netherfield until the first Christmas after his marriage. Ms. Grange does a nice job of getting into Mr. Darcy's mind. The additional plot that she adds is plausible and interesting. It all helps to develop Mr. Darcy's character. This is a must-read for any Jane Austen fan. Anyone who enjoyed Pride and Prejudice will probably also enjoy this.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Nativity sets

I'm not a big one for collecting things, but I do collect Nativities. I just love all the different ways that people have come up with to remember when God broke into history for our salvation. So, what kinds of Nativities do I have? Here they are:

1. Plastic Nativity set that used to belong to my parents and that we used for many years when I was a child. Technically, it now belongs to my daughter.
2. Cloth mache and resin set given to me by my husband the Christmas that we moved up here.
3. Porcelain set that sets on a wooden base that I bought somewhere (that I don't recall).
4. Porcelain set with stable given to me by my mother.
5. Wooden set (2-dimensional appearance and very blocky looking) that I bought at a Pregnancy Center sale.
6. Plastic set bought for the kids as a playset.
7. Small resin set painted gold that my husband gave me one Christmas. We were staying at a local B&B for the night and the set was on the nightstand sitting on a mirror. I commented on how pretty it was, and my husband said that it was mine. He had set it all up!
8. Stuffed set with velcro on the bottom of the pieces with a stable/storage box given to me by a friend. This is not a toy, but a beautiful Nativity set.
9. Nativity Advent calendar which is cloth. The pieces have velcro on the back and there are pockets along the bottom. The kids put one piece on the top part each day with Christmas day culminating with putting Baby Jesus in the manger.
10. Beautiful blue nesting boxes, each with a lovely picture of part of the Nativity. I take the boxes out and stack them up, smaller on larger. It's quite interesting.
11. Nativity scene painted on a feather given to me by my mother.
12. One piece glass Nativity that I got at an arts and crafts sale.
13. Heartwood Creek Nativity Christmas ornaments that I purchased at a gift shop a few years ago.
14. Christmas windmill. This is a contraption that has three levels: the Holy Family and the Wise Men on the bottom, the shepherds and sheep on the second level, and the angels on the top level. There are candles around the bottom with blades around the very top. When you light the candles, the blades turn which makes the Wise Men, shepherds, and angels turn. The whole thing is made out of wood. My husband gave it to me for Christmas one year.

My mom has a Nativity that is carved out of a gourd - that is really cool. I'm always looking for new Nativities, although I don't have much room for display any more. But, it's a fun hobby.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Recipe

Now, I don't post recipes very often because I don't do much adventurous cooking these days. That being said, Mr. Math Teacher and I watched Alton Brown on Food Network's "Good Eats" show. The particular show was about garlic, which I love, despite my Southern (and, prior to that, Irish and English) roots. He did a recipe called "40 Cloves and a Chicken". Yes, you cook a chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. Then, you serve the chicken with the garlic cloves as a side dish and the olive oil in which it was cooked as a dipping sauce for French Bread. The garlic cloves are soft enough that they can be spread on the bread instead of butter. Of course, you need to eat this with the entire family, or you'll be stranded in a room by yourself for the rest of the night (or week).

Here's the link: http://http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,,FOOD_9936_16200,00.html

Enjoy!!

Commercials

We recently got cable again so that I can watch TV while I knit. This is really nice to distract me when I have my headaches. I mostly watch documentaries, although I will also watch movies and "Monk" when I can catch it. The kids watch documentaries and some movies with me. They're generally limited to less than an hour a day (unless there's a football game on).

My problem with watching TV is commercials. Now, I understand that their job is to convince me that I need to buy whatever it is that they're selling. I also understand that part of that includes trying to create in me a need that didn't previously exist. But, some of what they are trying to tell us is just nuts! Here are some of my least favorite commercial types:

1. Electronic educational toys - Now, the toys themselves are not bad things. My kids enjoyed several different types and did learn from them. But, the commercials strongly imply that your child must have these in order to learn and develop properly - and, of course, we all want our kids to read by age 3. If you tend to succumb to this type of commercial, remember that children developed (and continue to develop) quite well without having every educational toy on the market. Use good judgement and buy toys for kids to enjoy and don't worry that they are always learning - because they are, whether you plan it or not!

2. The mini-van that brings families together - with electronics. The one that comes to mind most quickly shows the entire family spread out around the house watching TV, playing computer, talking on the phone, etc. when Mom drives up in the van and invites them all to go for a ride in the van. The announcer then tells us about this great van that brings families together. But, they show all the family members in the van engaged in individual electronic activities. Dad is playing with the electronics up front, the kids are watching DVDs or playing video games. Only when they show how everyone can sit around the table in the back and play cards is there anything resembling family activity. My frustration is that they try to sell something that doesn't remotely bring families together by telling us that it does bring families together.

3. Commercials for upcoming shows. This is mostly a problem on channels like USA (which has "Monk") and Oxygen (which has an occasional good movie). I get very distressed when I have to actually turn the TV off (not just mute it) during commercials because of the s*xual content. Oxygen has some show about girls being bad with commercials that are just atrocious. It's especially bad when I'm watching with the kids! Ugh!

4. Commercials for prescription medications. Some of this is probably because I'm a doctor, but some of it is just common sense. For example, how is a patient to know whether Lipitor or another statin is the best for their cholesterol? Just because Lipitor advertises on TV! The same thing goes for sleep medications. My favorite is trying to explain impotence medications to my 9 year old son (who doesn't like me to say "have s*x" when we're discussing things like the Virgin Mary!). I think that the companies must just be trying to get people to discuss the idea with their doctors and then hope that their brand gets prescribed. For example, Lipitor is the most commonly prescribed statin, so just getting more people diagnosed with elevated cholesterol will get more Lipitor prescriptions. But, I'd really prefer if patients and doctors could make their own (relatively) unbiased decisions in this department.

OK, now for some good commercials:

1. Geico Insurance - I love the gecko, especially his Aussie accent. And, when I was considering and insurance change, I checked them out. (Didn't change to them, but my point is that the commercial was reasonably effective.)

2. The beer commercials a few years ago with the frogs. I don't remember the brand, so I'm not real sure how effective the commercial itself was, but it was funny.

I'm sure I'll think of more that I like later on. What do you think? Which ones do you like or dislike?

More Snow!

I really like snow - when I'm inside and it's outside. When we moved up here, I kind of thought that I'd take care of the job thing and Mr. Math Teacher would take care of the home thing, including all the snow issues. Well, now that roles are reversed, it appears that I get to take care of some of the snow issues.

For those of you who are Southerners - you know who you are - here's a little primer on how things work up here where it snows for several months of the year. After it snows, the snow plows come out and plow the roads. In big snow storms, the plows will be out during the storm clearing the major roads. We live on Main Street (which is also the route from the local nursing home to the hospital), so we get plowed pretty quickly. In the morning (or when it stops snowing, whenever is convenient), people come out and snowblow our driveways. There are a few die-hards who shovel (like our next door neighbors), but the rest of us prefer the gasoline fumes and ear-splitting noise of a big snowblower. But, after you blow the snow, you still need to shovel the walkways. And, if the snow plow comes by after you've already cleaned your driveway, you still probably have to go out again and clean the end of the driveway because the plow leaves drifts when it goes by.

So, for the 10 years that we've lived up here, the most that I've had to worry about has been to clean snow and ice off my car and to occasionally help Mr. Math Teacher by doing some shoveling. But, we had a couple more inches of snow Thursday night and Mr. Math Teacher has a cold, so he didn't get the driveway blown before he went to school Friday am. I wanted to let him take care of it after he got back from school that afternoon, but I knew he had a cold and leaving it for him would be crass, to say the least. Then, the snow plow went by, leaving a drift that the poor little Malibu would not be able to traverse. It was time for me to brave the snowblowing task!!

The first trick is to start the snowblower. Ours has an electric start, but it is still a little tricky. It is also self-propelling - but it tries to be self-thinking as well. Suffice it to say that I had my work cut out for me. I got the driveway and sidewalk blown with moderate difficulty. Then, it was time to clear the drift that the snow plow left. I had to do that with the shovel. Not too bad, I figure.

I may yet adjust to living in the Great White North. Even if I do prefer it when sitting inside with a cup of hot tea.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Family Bed

We don't sleep together in one bed. No one would get any sleep at all!! When we were down South a few weeks ago, Mr. Wild Man slept with me most nights. Talk about a wild sleeper!

Two days ago, Mr. Math Teacher came home from student teaching very tired so he went upstairs to lie down. After about 30 minutes, I went up and lay down with him. After about 10 minutes, Wild Man came and lay down on the side of Mr. Math Teacher and curled up. A few minutes later, Ga'Hoole Girl joined us. For about fifteen minutes, we all four curled up together on our bed. It was a lovely time. It was too soon that we had to get up and get dinner on the table.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

SNOW!!

The first snowfall of the winter occurred last night! We got about eight inches, but then we got some freezing rain and sleet as well. Thankfully, we didn't need to go anywhere last night. This morning, Mr. Math Teacher got out to snowblow the driveway. He got the part done that he needed in order for him to get to church. Unfortunately, I had left some Christmas lights on the front walkway (which we usually shovel, not snowblow) and Mr. Math Teacher decided to snowblow the walkway next. Suffice it to say that the kids and I couldn't have gotten out of the driveway to go to church even if we had wanted to this morning. The lights got all caught up in the augur of the snowblower. Thankfully, Mr. Math Teacher was able to fix it all this afternoon and blow off the other side of the driveway so I can get out tomorrow.

We watched Christmas movies and read books while we were snowed in. I made homemade tomato soup on Friday, so we ate lots of warm soup while we watched the snow fall. Does it get much better than this?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas Lights - a rant

I think I like this ranting on my blog - it keeps me from ranting in person!

So, the kids want to put up Christmas lights. They put some up on Sunday, but didn't check to see if they worked, which they didn't. So, today, we went out and pulled down the old lights and proceeded to put up new ones. Of course, we checked the new ones, and both sets of new net lights have sections out so Ga'Hoole Girl is working on those. Some of the other strings are salvageable, but we'll work on that tomorrow. In the meantime, I put up one string of icicle lights. Now I'm done.

I really like living in the Great White North, but my winter plans always entail indoor activities - sitting by the Christmas tree, watching movies, listening to music, playing games, doing puzzles, etc. Nowhere did I plan to put up Christmas lights when it was 21 degrees outside. The plan was for Mr. Math Teacher to do it. But, now he has this job thing, so he can't. I'm sure my family are all laughing while they read this - "We told you so!" Indeed. Well, I'm off to warm my numb fingers. Maybe over the next week, we can get a few more lights put up then I can sit inside, drinking hot chocolate, and enjoying our Christmas lights.

My house

I love my house. It's smaller than our previous house, but it is about 60 years old and very cute. The problem is that we don't seem to have enough room in our house for all our stuff. The conclusion, of course, is to get rid of stuff. But, I'm kind of at the end of my rope in terms of getting rid of stuff. Our biggest issue is books. We don't have enough bookshelves or room for more bookshelves. Of course, Mr. Math Teacher says we should get rid of the excess books. My answer: "Heresy!!" So, I think I'll be doing some serious rearranging and giving away in the next few months. I may even give away one or two books.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Reviews - November 25

While the kids and I were down South, I had the chance to do some reading, and we all saw some DVDs and even went to a movie in the theater. So, here are my reviews.

Dancing Under the Red Star by Karl Tobien
This is the true story of Margaret Werner, the only American woman to survive Stalin's Gulag. I picked this book up off the shelf at the library and figured it might be an interesting read. It turned out to be more than just a good story.

Margaret Werner and her family moved to Gorky in the 1930s so that her father could work in the Ford auto factory there. In the late 1930's, her father was convicted (wrongly) as a traitor and sentenced to the Gulag, where he died. Margaret and her mother continued to live in Gorky, hoping to hear word of her father. They survived the horrors of World War 2 in the USSR. In the 1940's, Margaret was falsely accused of being a traitor and sentenced to ten years of hard labor. Much of the story is about Margaret's survival in the camps.

During this time, Margaret's mother prayed for her, and Margaret had a strong belief in God, although it appears that she knew little about the Bible and Christianity (except that it was banned in the USSR). Margaret was physically and emotionally strong, which helped her to survive her ten year sentence. She was able to participate in dance and drama groups that were allowed in the camps.

After Margaret was released from the labor camp, she married and had a son. Her family was permitted to emigrate to East Germany and then they escapted to West Germany (before the Wall). Her husband became abusive and left her, so she divorced him. She eventually moved to the US with her mother and raised her son.

The book was written by her son, Karl. He tells us that Margaret became a believer in Jesus in 1994. She died in 1997. The Epilogue of the book is Karl Tobien's plea for this country to turn back to Christ so that we can avoid the godless hell that was the USSR. I very strongly recommend this book. I had no idea that there would be a Christian message, but it was a wonderful surprise.

Hitler's Cross by Erwin Lutzer
Lutzer writes this book to show the role of the church in advancing the Nazi regime. It is also a cautionary tale for the church in the United State. Lutzer shows how Hitler tried to co-opt the Church in Germany. Hitler knew that most Germans were Christians, but they were generally culturally Christian. The Christians were, unfortunately, quite willing to distance themselves from the anti-Jewish activities of the Third Reich. The Church became very pro-Germany, even to the point of rejecting Christ. There were a lot of politics discussed, but this is the essence. Churches at first would have a swastica along with the cross in the church, but many of them eventually replaced the cross by the swastica.

Lest we think that we, in this country, are immune to this sort of thing, Lutzer ends his book with an exhortation for the Church in America to stand for Christ. There are two primary dangers for us: 1. Retreat from cultural and spiritual battles to be true to the supremacy of the cross. 2. Become so overburdened with sociopolitical agendas that the Gospel gets lost. Lutzer makes the point that we need to be concerned with reaching people with the Gospel, but also to be active in the cultural arena to make positive change.

This is an excellent book for anyone with any interest in history. I would encourage others to read it as well, although it may be a little heavy on history for some people. In any case, Lutzer sounds a timely warning for our country.

Innocent Traitor by Allison Weir
This is a historical fiction book about the Lady Jane Grey, who reigns as Queen of England for 9 days after the death of King Edward and before Queen Mary (Bloody Mary) takes the throne. In this telling of the story, Lady Jane is a young woman who is brought to the throne by the powerful adults around her. She does have a claim to the throne after King Edward (her cousin) decrees that Mary and Elizabeth, who should be next for the throne according to their father Henry VIII, may not succeed him because of their status as bastards. This decree was not done with the consent of Parliament. Lady Jane is brought to the throne because she is Protestant and Mary is Catholic (she is called Bloody Mary because she executed so many people for refusing to convert back to Catholicism). In this telling of the story, Mary takes back the throne by force, but plans to spare Lady Jane's life. Mary tries to get Jane to convert to Catholicism but Jane refuses to do so and is beheaded.

This is a very interesting book that is appropriate for older teens and adults. There are some rather explicit scenes, but they are not inappropriate to the story. The book is written as episodes from different people's points of view, which I thought was quite effective.

"The Bee Movie"
We saw this movie in the theater. The kids and I really enjoyed it. The storyline is interesting. The animation is excellent. I appreciated that it was a rather sophisticated story, but could be enjoyed by kids. Jerry Seinfeld is truly entertaining. There was nothing objectionable in the movie, so I would recommend it for about age 6 or 7 and up.

"Nanny McPhee"
I wasn't real sure what to make of this movie before we saw it. I had heard rather mixed things about it. The kids and I enjoyed it. I absolutely love Colin Firth as an actor, and he did a wonderful job as a harried father in this movie. Emma Thompson as Nanny McPhee was also great. The set and costumes were quite colorful and fanciful. It was fun to watch. I think this is a good movie for kids over the age of about 7.

Holiday update

The kids and I had an interesting Thanksgiving week this year. I have already posted that we went down South because my dad was sick. Well, we left the Great White (although not yet) North on Wednesday and my dad had surgery on Friday evening. He had part of his colon removed because of diverticulitis. I spent some time Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening in the hospital with Dad while Mom went home to rest. Dad was able to come home Wednesday afternoon and is recovering very nicely.

The kids spent most of their time swimming! My parents have a swimming pool and the kids had a blast since we don't swim much in the winter - there are indoor pools up here, but we frequent them rarely. We visited Dad several times, which seemed to cheer him up a good bit. On the first Friday we were there, we visited a nature center and learned about sea animals and "hammocks" (a certain kind of forest-type of thing). I meant to take them to another nature center with owl exhibits (for Ga'Hoole Girl) and to the science museum, but they wanted to swim most of the time, so I didn't argue.

The kids and I made a nice dinner for Thanksgiving, although Dad was only able to have broth, pudding, and Jello. Friday, though, the kids and Mom put up Christmas decorations. Ga'Hoole Girl and Wild Man were excited out of their minds! Unfortunately, I had a migraine on Friday, so I just laid low most of the day.

I have never been a big fan of air travel, but I must admit that my actual fear of flying seems to have pretty much gone away. I think our trip to Venezuela a few years ago pretty well took care of it. I was a little concerned about traveling by myself with kids, especially since our flights were booked so late and I had no guarantee about seating arrangements. But, all worked out well. The kids are both pretty comfortable with air travel these days. They each had a backpack with everything that they would need for the flight. For one of the flights, I was 20 rows away, but they did just fine.

Overall, I'm glad that we went on this trip. I think we were helpful for my parents and the kids and I enjoyed each other's company. Now we're going to be doing lots of Christmas crafts and getting our own house decorated for Christmas.

I was planning to do a big Christmas unit this month, but I'm going to have an interesting time of it. I have a bunch of movies from Netflix for us to watch, but the books that I want from the library are all taken already - I think other families are wanting to do the same thing. There is lots of info on the Internet, so that may be our primary source of information. We're going to get back to our workbook work tomorrow and I'm going to have them each keep a notebook for the month. I think we'll start this week with the Nativity story itself.

I read several books and we watched lots of movies, so reviews will be forthcoming!

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Spirit of the Disciplines - Chapter 3

Chapter 3 - Salvation is a Life



Willard starts Chapter 3 by challenging the idea that salvation is just the moment when our religious life begins instead of "the daily life we receive from God." Our entire lives are to be saturated by God and His word. Willard tells us: "A close look at Jesus' "great acts" of humility, faith, and compassion recorded in the Gospel narratives finds them to be moments in a life more pervasively and deeply characterized by solitude, fasting, prayer, and service." From here, Willard asserts that our lives must emulate Jesus in the daily disciplines as well as the "great acts".


Willard also stresses that Jesus had a physical body just like we do. Emulating Jesus requires that we do what He did physically; so our salvation and spiritual life are also part of our physical life.


"If salvation is to affect our lives, it can only do so by affecting our bodies. . . To withhold our bodies from religion is to exclude religion from our lives." We tend to relegate our faith to certain aspects of our week and certain places - Sunday morning services, small group meetings, etc. We are now being exhorted to "take Christ into the workplace". This sounds good, but really points up the mistake we are making of our faith being separate from the rest of life.


In fact, salvation is "not just forgiveness, but a new order of life." Modern Christianity too often describes salvation as just forgiveness of sins. But, in early Christianity, salvation was clearly a new way of living - being reconciled to God. Because of our idea of salvation being just forgiveness, it becomes easy to regard the historical disciplines as quaint oddities, often misguided.


Willard talks about the fact that the cross was actually a rather late development as a symbol of Christianity; the first time it was used was about 430AD. The reason is that the early church thought about Christianity as transcendent life. As the church's understanding of salvation narrowed to "just" forgiveness of sins, the cross as a symbol became more important.


The message of Jesus was one of a new life, and the early disciples understood this better than we tend to. "The resurrection was a cosmic event only because it validated the reality and the indestructibility of what Jesus had preached and exemplified before his death - the enduring reality and openness of God's Kingdom."

Willard now spends several pages on the interaction between faith and works. He says that "works are simply a natural part of faith . . . not . . . to prove that one has faith . . ." Faith displays itself in the New Testament in 3 dimensions: 1. A new power within the individual through repentance and forgiveness, 2. An immediate but also developing transformation of the character, 3. Power over the evils of our present age.

Faith is often seen as a purely "mental" act, but the New Testament is really quite practical and shows how faith influences all of our lives, including the physical. Yes, the body has been corrupted by the Fall, but our spiritual lives are to encompass all of our lives - physical, spiritual, and mental. That is where the spiritual disciplines come in. The next three chapters discuss the theological basis for the disciplines.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Homeschooling and "Real Life"

Homeschoolers are sometimes accused of sheltering our children from "Real Life". I'm sure that there are some families out there that are over-sheltering their children, but for the most part, homeschooling allows for much more "Real Life" than having kids spend so much of their lives in school. Today I'm just going to talk about one aspect of this issue.

Three years ago, our family was down South, visiting my and Mr. Math Teacher's extended families. We had a wonderful time, particularly getting to see Mr. Math Teacher's grandmother, who had just turned 90 years old. We got into town on Saturday night and spent until Tuesday with Mr. Math Teacher's family. We drove his parents (Grandma and PawPaw) to the airport on Tuesday morning. Then, we went to visit my parents for several days. Late Tuesday night, we received a call that PawPaw had died suddenly, soon after arriving home.

As you can imagine, we were devastated. We immediately packed everything back into the van and drove from my parent's trailer in Mississippi to Grandma and PawPaw's house in Tampa - a twelve hour drive. Our kids were with us through this entire time. They were there with Grandma and the other family members and friends who came to visit Grandma before the funeral. During the viewing, I took our kids and their cousin to the viewing for a little while and then back to the hotel to swim. Then, we all were at the funeral together. PawPaw was buried in Louisiana, so we drove Grandma to Louisiana with us and went to the burial service together.

During all of this, the children were active participants as much as they were able. We didn't shield them from what happened. We encouraged them to participate in the remembering and grieving with the rest of the family. I only kept them at the viewing for a short period of time and they were not required to do anything they didn't want to (except be polite).

This Monday, my dad was sent to the Emergency Room because he continued to be ill. He was admitted to the hospital Tuesday morning and surgery was scheduled for tonight (Friday night). Wednesday morning, the kids and I flew down here to be with my mom (Grams) and dad (Grandpa). We have visited Grandpa, made dinner for Grams, and generally tried to be helpful. We are planning to be here until next Saturday.

During both of these episodes, the kids have been completely "off school". But, really, they are learning more from these events than they would from books. They are learning about illness and death - things that our society handles very poorly. They are learning about taking care of each other during difficult times. They are learning to be unselfish. What will help them more as an adult - learning decimals at the right time of their life or being with their family in a crisis? The answer seems obvious to me. This week is another demonstration of why we homeschool - to prepare them for "Real Life".

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Eclectic homeschooling or . . . chaos?

I like to think that we do eclectic homeschooling around here, but I'm not real sure. I think that chaos may be a better description. I really love Sonlight, but we use it mostly as a guide right now. A lot of what we do is based on things that come up or ideas that I have. So last week, we researched Venezuela to make our exhibit for the World Fair that our homeschool group put on. Last Saturday, we spent the morning at the library telling people about Venezuela and learning about other countries. Yesterday, I got the bright idea to make rock candy, something I've wanted to do for a long time. We talked about solutions, suspensions, supersaturated solutions, crystallization, and more. Then, we pulled out my microscope and looked at sugar and salt crystals and then at some of the ant corpses from our ant farm. So, maybe it's kind of chaotic, but they're learning.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Christian Ghetto - a rant

This rant is several months in the making. I chose tonight to write because I've got something of a block on my novel writing - NaNoWriMo is starting to wear on me.

Ghetto (from dictionary.com)
1. a section of a city, esp. a thickly populated slum area, inhabited predominantly by members of an ethnic or other minority group, often as a result of social or economic restrictions, pressures, or hardships.
2. (formerly, in most European countries) a section of a city in which all Jews were required to live.
3. a section predominantly inhabited by Jews.
4. any mode of living, working, etc., that results from stereotyping or biased treatment: job ghettos for women; ghettos for the elderly.


Being a Christian in modern America comes with all kinds of "ghetto" trappings. We shop at Christian bookstores, wear "Christian" clothing, read "Christian" books, etc. Every new cultural phenomenon is accompanied by warnings about how it is to be avoided by Christians. I'm sure we all remember the Harry Potter psychosis. My daughter couldn't talk about her favorite books with her two best friends because they were not allowed to read HP or watch the HP movies.

The latest event in my life to highlight our propensity to be part of the Christian Ghetto occurred a week or so ago. Our homeschool group set up an art class for the last year or so. My daughter went a few times and enjoyed it. But, the new coordinator found out, quite by accident, that the art teacher was also an energy healer. The coordinator was quite uncomfortable about having her kids in a class (art class, remember) taught by this woman. In her attempts to have another person coordinate the class, the teacher chose to no longer continue teaching. There is a rumor that the church that hosted the class would not host the class because of the teacher's other vocation. This is an egregious example of the Christian Ghetto at work. Family's are so concerned about their kids being exposed to a woman who is an energy healer that they won't even allow them to take an art class with her.

The recent barrage of emails about "The Golden Compass" is another example. While I was happy to be informed about this so I don't send my kids off to see this movie without me, I have been apalled at the handwringing that this movie has invoked. I haven't heard people talking about using this book and movie as a teaching moment for your kids. I have heard how we need to boycott it. And some people are even picketing.

Those most involved in the Christian Ghetto tend to be like me in many ways. We are often Evangelical Protestants. We want to raise our children to love Jesus. But somewhere the desire to teach our children our values gets turned and twisted into bizarre protectionism. The response to the non-Christian world has become to run and hide when it should be to march out and engage. Jesus calls us to be "in" not "of" the world. Somehow, many Christians have decided that even being "in" the world is too much.

How should we as Christians relate to the rest of the world? First of all, we should not be remotely surprised that the world is hostile to our Savior. Jesus told us to expect persecution. Second, we should be prepared to engage our world. This means that we must have a grounded faith. But, it also means that we need to be able to defend our faith - and with more than just "The Bible says it!" We need to understand why people become atheists and how we can talk to them, not work so hard to avoid them. We must teach our children our faith, but we also must teach them what kinds of philosophies and ideas they will come up against in the world and how they can respond intelligently to them.

OK. Rant finished. You may continue with your regularly scheduled lives.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Spirit of the Disciplines - Part 1

I have been reading this book for a couple of weeks now and really getting a lot out of it. It is quite challenging. Here is a brief summary of the first couple of chapters as well as some of my thoughts. I look forward to hearing your comments.

Preface
Willard starts out by asserting that Christianity is the only answer for fallen humanity. He states that "Christianity can only succeed as a guide for current humanity if it does two things. First, it must take the need for human transformation as seriously as do modern revolutionary movements. . . . Second, it needs to clarify and exemplify realistic methods of human transformation." So, Willard adds, "My central claim is that we can become like Christ by doing one thin - by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself." This book is to help us change the practice of our faith with respect to the spiritual disciplines. By participating in the spiritual disciplines and trying to live the way Jesus lived, we can see real change in our lives.

Chapter 1 - The Secret of the Easy Yoke
Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:29-30 that we are to take His yoke upon us because it is easy and His burden is light. Yet, most Christians do not find ourselves truly living this way. Why? Willard compares our Christian lives to the lives of young athletes. A baseball player wants to emulate a baseball star. But, he doesn't do this by just trying to be like the baseball star when he's out on the field. The young athlete tries to do everything just like the baseball star - nutrition, practice, equipment, etc. In the same way, we can't expect to live the Christian life effectively by just doing the right thing in a crisis. We need to live our entire lives the way that Jesus did. We are saved by grace, but the moment by moment victory over sin that is promised to us does not come automatically. It requires practice and discipline.

Chapter 2 - The Theology of the Disciplines
As Christians, we know that we are to be Christlike, but find ourselves falling far short of that goal. The American Church does not do a very good job of helping it's members to "grow in grace". In the last 30 years there has developed more interest in the historical spiritual disciplines: fasting, meditation, solitude, silence, giving. Why the new interest? After the "laxness" of the 1970s, many Christians have become more interested in structure. In addition, the development of Christian psychology reawakened the idea that spiritual growth requires development of habits and character. Willard also points out that the late 20th century saw the blurring of the lines between many Protestant denominations. The effect of this among conservative Christians was twofold: 1. saving faith became (to many) merely a mental assent to correct doctrine and 2. the Bible was no longer "functionally authoritative" over life. Many Christians are looking to get back to a faith that "takes our lives seriously". Willard will spend the rest of the book developing a practical theology and elaborate on the following: "Full participation in the life of God's Kingdom and in the vivid companionshipo of Christ comes to us only through appropriate exercise in the disciplines for life in the spirit."

My thoughts:
I absolutely agree with Willard that American Christianity rarely changes lives. We read in the Bible that we are to be like Jesus and then justify why we aren't. But, what good is faith that doesn't get you through life? I am intensely interested in this topic right now. I have learned so much in my walk of faith in the last few years, but I know that there is so much more that I could be doing. I don't just want to learn the facts of theology. I want to walk with Jesus.

I am also reading a book on meditation and have started meditating on Scripture. That has been so helpful just in the last two weeks. For example, I have spent some time on Isaiah 30:15 and working out what repentance and rest looks like in my life. Our small group recently studied the story of Ananias and Saphira. My tendency so often is to kind of gloss over stories like this that I have heard since I was a kid. But, I spent some serious time meditating on that story and got some insight into lying to the Holy Spirit. God sees everything about us, but He expects us to be honest with Him. That's what got Ananias and Saphira into trouble. What does that mean for me? Well, apparently nothing bad enough for God to strike me dead! But, denial is a big defense mechanism for me. This story makes it clear that God wants us to be honest with Him. That's what gets me to repentance and then to changing my behavior.

This is going to be a really good study for me. I'm discussing this with an online group, as well. It's really good to get insights from others. So, I'm interested in your comments.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Cat and the Socks

We have three cats and I love two of them dearly. The other one belongs to Ga'Hoole Girl. She can be a very nice cat, but she has a bad habit of attacking the other two cats. So, she's already on my bad side most of the time. She has developed a new annoying habit, though. She takes dark socks and carries them around the house. She will take them out of the clean or dirty laundry baskets, off the table, or from whereevery they are around the house. Then, she drops them somewhere else in the house. There is no rhyme or reason to it. She's not hoarding. She doesn't play with them. She just carries them around. And, she only does it to dark socks, not white socks. So, I'm now training the rest of the family to get the clothes put away quickly so Sophie doesn't carry the socks off. Arghh.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Meditation

I'm currently exploring the topic of spiritual disciplines. I want to learn more about the role of the disciplines in my spiritual life, but I particularly want to learn about meditation, silence, solitude, and fasting. Being a lifelong Protestant, I have been taught about the importance of Bible study, Scripture memory, corporate worship, and prayer. But, I think that many Protestant denominations overlook some of the older disciplines. I don't think I have ever heard a sermon or other Bible study lesson on meditation or fasting. What role do these things play in our lives? Are they just for the monastic types or are they for everyone?

Our twenty first century lives focus so much on productivity and activity, even within the church, that I am afraid that we don't know how to really be with God. I'm not even very good with just being by myself! Of course, my years in training and practice as a physician were also times in which being busy was prized. Rest and meditation were ignored if not outright scorned.

I have been meditating for the last week or so on Isaiah 30:15: This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation,in quietness and trust is your strength." Getting to repentance, rest, and quietness is a challenge. I am currently reading The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard and am really enjoying it and learning quite a bit. I'll write more as I go through it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

NaNoWriMo and more

November is National Novel Writing Month, so we are changing our language arts curriculum for the month to writing novels. Obviously, you can't write a decent novel in a month - and I'm not sure I can write a decent novel at all - so the goal is quantity, not quality. Check out the NaNoWriMo website. This looks like a lot of fun - and a nice change of pace for a few weeks.

Today was the annual candy craziness known as Halloween Trick or Treat hours. Ga'Hoole Girl went out dressed as a travelling minstrel and played her ocarina. Wild Man was a pirate - big surprise! We live right on the main drag of our little town, so we got lots of kids. We ran out of candy again this year, but at least not until near the end. The kids went out with friends, so Mr. Math Teacher and I got to stay home and give out candy to the rest of the kids.

Next Saturday, our homeschool group is doing a culture fair. Our family signed up for Venezuela, so we will be studying everything Venezuela this week. We have our display board and lots of books.

Other interesting things in our lives: My shingles came back for a third time so I went back to the doctor and we decided that it's probably not shingles. It's gone now and my Lyme test was negative. If it comes back, I may end up going to the dermatologist. I'm pretty stumped. Derm was never my strong point.

Ga'Hoole Girl is almost finished with this quarter's art class and then she's done with art for this year. She really enjoys the class, but having to be at school first thing in the morning is really hard because of her dance classes. One of the reasons that we homeschool is so that our kids can get enough sleep and not have to follow the crazy schedules of the schools.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Others First!

I have borrowed this slogan from our pastor who uses it to help his kids learn to be unselfish. Starting now, we are an "Others First!" family. The kids have been having a terrible time with poor attitudes, complaining, not wanting to work, etc. Basically, they are just being kids - normal kids with sinful natures. But, God is calling us all to love others the way that Jesus loves us. For us, that means "Others First!" I have started by limiting their media time to weekends only, except for DVDs and TV shows that I have them watch for educational value (their attitude seems to be worse with more media). I made signs with the "Others First!" slogan and a scripture verse on each sign and placed them around the house. Mr. Math Teacher and I are going to work on our own attitudes. We are also going to start a zero-tolerance policy for negative attitudes and complaining with the kids. Consequences will generally involve running around the house or up and down the stairs. I'm hoping to also come up with some kind of fun things to encourage us to do things for others. Maybe we'll do things like have one day to specifically encourage one person or do secret things for each other. We'll see how things go. So, as of tomorrow, we are "Others First!"

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Shingles - Take 2

Monday morning, I woke up with terrible pain where I had had shingles several weeks ago. When I went to the shower, I saw that the rash was back - just like it was before. EEK! I have been feeling kind of "ill" because of the shingles (nausea, fatigue, etc.) and have had more headaches because of it. In addition, my new insurance hasn't come through yet, so I'm on acyclovir for the shingles instead of Valtrex. Acyclovir has to be taken every four hours. I'm starting to think I'm chained to a medicine bottle. We have gotten very little schoolwork done this week, but I think we're just going to write it up to a sick teacher. What a week!

He's reading!!

Wild Man is sitting on the sofa reading a book to himself! This is a big deal to any family, but it is especially important for us because Wild Man is dyslexic and homeschooled. While the NEA wants us to think that only trained professionals are able to teach children to read, homeschool families all over the country are doing a great job teaching them at home. Of course, Wild Man has dyslexia, so he does get help from a "trained professional" once a week, but the majority of his reading education has come at home. It's so cool to see that he's reading the book, but it's really fun to see that he's enjoying it. He really loves stories, so reading will open up a whole new world for him. I'm sad that he has had to work so hard to learn to do something so many of us take for granted, but I hope that he will enjoy his reading and make great use of it!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Geaux Tigers!!

Yes, I am an unashamed LSU fan. Mr. Math Teacher and I were at LSU from 1985 to 1990 - we were present (but not together) at the 1988 game in which the cheering was strong enough to register as an earthquake on the geology departments seismograph. Since LSU was ranked #1 according to the AP poll this week, our family naturally had to watch the game. And, this week they played Florida. I grew up in Florida but have always been an LSU fan. When I was growing up, this meant that I was swimming against the tide. Tonight we had a little LSU football party with just our family - it's hard to find LSU fans around here! Ga'Hoole Girl didn't get really interested in the game until the very end. Wild Man, though, watched every second, giving running commentary.

And, what a game it was! Yes, LSU won, but they were never ahead until the last few minutes of the game. And the last minute was quite a nail-biter - hoping that Florida would not be able to pull a touchdown out under the pressure.

Mr. Math Teacher's would be very proud of Wild Man's enthusiasm. The last time that we saw Paw Paw was on a trip to Baton Rouge a few years ago. We went to LSU and saw Death Valley and Mike the Tiger V. It turned out that we were there on Mike's birthday and the local TV station was out doing a story. They interviewed PawPaw for the story because he remembered Mike I. The story aired that night, and we watched it in our hotel room. Paw Paw died the next night. It's really special for the kids that their last activity with their PawPaw was visiting LSU and Mike.

Another very interesting thing about this game is that the Florida quarterback was homeschooled through high school. Florida passed a law in 1996 that allows homeschoolers to participate in public school athletics. Tim Tebow played football in Florida and signed with the University of Florida after he graduated. He is a great quarterback and had us very worried tonight that he would help his Gators pull out a win. Thankfully, the Tigers held them off.

I hope that this kind of thing will give positive publicity to homeschooling. There are places where homeschoolers are not allowed participation in any athletics or other extracurricular activities. I'm not sure about the law in Wisconsin - Wild Man is still several years from high school. We have had Ga'Hoole Girl taking an art class at the local middle school and have been very happy with the outcome. It is unfortunate that some homeschool families are denied this possibility because the school systems are convinced that the system will be abused. In any case, it reflects well on his family and homeschooling that he is doing so well.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Reviews - September 26

With our schoolwork going in earnest now, I haven't had quite as much time to read as previously. However, I have finished a few books and watched a few movies that I thought I'd review here.

Will God Heal Me? by Ron Dunn
This is a rather short book intended for people who are dealing with illness. Dunn starts by addressing why we suffer and affirming God's sovereignty. He then moves on to a crash course in Biblical hermeneutics - how to interpret Scripture properly. This section includes a rebuttal of the "health and wealth" teaching so prevalent today. The last section is about how to find God's good in our suffering. I found the entire book very good and very useful. I had come to many of the same conclusions as Ron Dunn, but it was good to see them supported by someone else. Dunn concludes that there are some things that are better than healing; it is better to suffer and to really know God than to have an easy life far away from God. I strongly encourage everyone to read this book - it is useful for those dealing with chronic illness, but also for their friends and family.

Help for the Harried Homeschooler by Christine Field
This is a very good book about how to live life as a homeschooling family. I didn't finish it, though, because it really didn't meet my needs. I would say that I'm something of a harried homeschooler, but I don't need more advice about how to be organized, etc. I am naturally organized. My problem is that I can't do what I plan out because my illness intervenes. Nonetheless, I do recommend this to other homeschooling families. The advice given is sound and the book is easy and pleasant to read.

Desperate Pastor's Wives by Ginger Kolbaba
The premise of this novel is that five pastor's wives from a small town meet every other week in a different small town for lunch. During these meetings, they share the struggles of life as pastor's wives. I enjoyed this book, but, as a novel, it really isn't all that high-quality. The author does, though, give us some idea of the difficulties that women who are married to clergy face. In addition to the usual marriage and life issues, they are faced with their own and/or their husbands' and/or their congregations expectations. They all have some spouse issues, whether lack of time, lack of attention, differences of opinion about employment, etc. By the end of the book, everything is neatly and predictably wrapped up. This was a pretty easy read and I would recommend it.

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
I read this because Ga'Hoole Girl will be reading it later in the school year. It is a young adult reader about a girl growing up in thirteenth century England. It is written in diary format. The heroine is entertaining and always getting herself in to trouble. There is a good bit of sexual innuendo with remarks about girls "getting bedded" and "there will be many babies this next spring." I didn't find it too disturbing, but I know that other parents have been concerned. I anticipate some interesting discussions because the main character is Ga'Hoole Girl's age and is planning her wedding! But, that was medieval Europe.

Mary, Bloody Mary by Caroly Meyer
This is another reader for Ga'Hoole Girl, this time about Mary Tudor. It is written in first person and covers Mary's life from about age 10 until age 20. It is well-written and I really enjoyed reading it. The author does a good job of giving a real feeling for what court life must have been like. In addition, she is very sympathetic to Mary and her disasterous family life. I recommend this for young adults.

Friday, September 21, 2007

In, not of

I've been considering what Jesus meant when he said that we are to be in the world, but not of the world. Last week, Ga'Hoole Girl went to Junior High group at church - one of her favorite events of the week. They played a game where they put a card on their forehead that had a name that they were supposed to guess. Ga'Hoole Girl couldn't guess the person on her card because it was someone from American Idol, and we watch very little TV so she hadn't even heard of the person. It wasn't earth-shattering or anything, but the event has gotten me to think about how we relate to "the world" as Christians. This was a Christian event, and my daughter felt out of place because of how we structure our lives.

Mr. Math Teacher and I have been very clear to try to be part of our culture. We don't want to get so involved in the Christian subculture that we are no longer able to impact the rest of the world for Christ. To that end, we read Harry Potter, watch some popular movies, etc. We have not often been accused of being overly protective of our children in this regard - in fact, we are considered rather "liberal" about such things in our homeschool group. But, we rarely watch network TV. For one thing, we don't have much time. We spend our evenings reading, playing, or other such things. But, we also limit our kids' TV exposure because of the advertising. We enjoy watching Packer games, but Mr. Math Teacher and I are quite often having to talk to the kids about the commercials that they see. Not only does the advertising by it's nature encourage consumerism, but many of the commercials are just horribly sexual or have other negative aspects. But, even in "Christian" groups, it appears that we are not as "in touch" with the culture as we thought.

We aren't concerned enough about this to start watching TV every night or anything drastic like that. This incident, though, has gotten me and Mr. Math Teacher to again raise our awareness about how involved in our culture we need to allow and encourage our children to be. I have no interest in raising children who can't or won't interact with people who are different from them (i.e. public schooled, non-Christian, etc.). But, we have to balance that with encouraging Godly influences on their lives. Where is the balance? It appears that this is something that we have to re-evaluate regularly. [Deep sigh]

Friday, September 14, 2007

God is laughing

God is laughing at me and my schedule - I'm sure of it. Things went pretty well Monday and Tuesday, but they fell apart starting on Wednesday. Wednesday and Thursday, I had a bad migraine (although, is there ever a good migraine!). The kids did some work those days, but we did lots of "unschooling". Before the headache got real bad on Wednesday, we walked to the coffee shop downtown. We did some schoolwork there, but we had to leave because my headache was getting worse.

The gas company came by on Wednesday to deliver our fuel oil. Of course, since being homeschooler, Wild Man and I asked the guy who was delivering the oil all kinds of questions. Today, Wild Man and I checked out the web to learn how they get fuel oil and gasoline from crude oil.

Today, the kids watched "Antz" because we're studying ants - I'm sure it's educational somehow! Then, we discussed metric vs. English measurements and put together little conversion pyramids that I printed off a website. I wanted to do a really cool hands-on activity with colored water, etc., but my head still hurts today. Instead, they are making cookies to work on their measurement skills. Actually, this could be very good because they can't find the one cup measure, so Ga'Hoole Girl said they will measure without that measuring cup. I also gave them a writing assignment with measurements: they need to each write a short story that uses volume, length, and mass measurement. Ga'Hoole Girl will use metrics and Wild Man will use English measurements. Yes, it's a sneaky way to get them to write, but I think it will work.

I think we're on track with our Core studies, as long as I get them to do one or two notebook pages before Monday. This week, we learned about ancient North and South American Civilizations and started our study of Rome. I ordered "Spartacus" from Netflix. It's rather violent, but I think it gives a good view of some aspects of Roman life.

We are not on track in science, but that is OK because we have been reading up on Whooping Cranes and ants. The kids are going to do short presentations for me and Mr. Math Teacher and each other about ants. Wild Man is going to talk about ant anatomy. Ga'Hoole Girl was going to talk about the gel used in Antworks, but she couldn't find much information. I'm not sure what she's going to choose now as her topic, but she's got till 5pm.

We had an interesting science discussion at the dinner table the other night. Ga'Hoole Girl asked whether one could make a solid into a liquid by grinding it into incredibly tiny particles. This led to a discussion of phase change and energy requirements. Then, we talked about boing point and pressure changes (Boyle's law, basically). She wants to be able create non-heat energy so that she can make a solid into a liquid without heat. Although, she may have abandoned this idea when we told her that she needs to study more physics!

I got a new math book for Wild Man. He finished Singapore 2B, but still has some trouble with word problems and measurement. I got the 2B Intensive Practice book for him. It looks like I'll probably have him do most of this book - it looks really good. Ga'Hoole girl is still working on fractions, but is just about done with her book. She'll go back to Singapore next week. I really want her to get to decimals soon because her life with metric measurement will be much easier once she knows how to manage decimals.

So, my schedule is completely shot. I think I'll have to think about my schedule the way the pirates in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies think about the pirate code: they're more like guidelines, really.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Structure and Schooling

So, how much structure should our "school" have? I'm not the only one asking that question based on the topics on some of the homeschooling forums. The range of possibility is huge - from unschooling to having every 15 minutes planned out. What is the right amount of structure for us? That's what I'm trying to sort out.

Unschooling is appealing to me because it allows kids to be creative and research and learn what interests them at the moment. Unschooling is basically allowing a child to study whatever they feel like today. There is usually very little direction given by the parents. But, it is very parent-intensive. In unschooling, the parent works to help the child learn what they want. The parent and child(ren) go to the library, search the Internet, go on field trips, etc. Younger children require more help than older ones.

There are definite downsides to unschooling. While the working of parent and child together provides great opportunity for bonding, it also means that this is a labor-intensive way of schooling for the parent. You can't just give a kid a workbook and tell them to go work. This is an issue for me because of my headaches. I can't be there with them to research things, etc.

I also don't agree with the entire premise that children instinctively know what is best for them. Many unschoolers take this premise to (what seems to me) an unacceptable end and they engage in "unparenting". On one of the unschooling forums parents were discussing how to help a four year old decide whether or not to go to school ("I want it to be her choice") and how to handle the fact that other people (who are from authoritarian families) think that their children are disrespectful because they yell at their parents and demand their own way. Clearly, kids need parents for discipline, direction, etc. This is true in spiritual development and character development but also in school. I'm pretty sure that my kids will manage to convince themselves that they never need to learn to write properly if no one requires it of them. I believe that God intends for us to direct our children's education as well as their moral, spiritual, physical, and emotional growth. As they get older, the parents should naturally back off and have them make more of their decisions. But, I think that parents must be somewhat directive if we are to be good parents.

Then there is the other side of the coin: the parent who schedules the day in 15 minute increments and rarely varies from it. There was a time when this would have been my preferred way of doing everything. When I was in college, I would make color-coded schedules down to the half-hour - and stick with it. Not any more. First of all, life is too unpredictable to make such a detailed schedule. The kids' chores may take longer today than usual if they're not feeling well or if the trash can was unusually heavy, etc. The child may not understand a math concept and need more time right then (not later in the day). But, a big reason that detailed scheduling doesn't work well for us is my headaches (big shock). 1-3 days of our week are significantly limited because of my headaches. Wild Man doesn't yet read independently, so I can't just send him off to do schoolwork by himself (except for a couple of workbooks and some computer programs). Working around my headaches doesn't seem to have gotten much easier, despite our experience.

Here is my current plan (as of this minute in time): scheduled work for three days of the week and "unschooling" for two days. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, we will work on a list of schoolwork for each day. Some of the work is independent, but two days we work together on history (and other social sciences) and one day we work on science. The other two days will be workbook work (math and language arts) and computer work (Spanish and typing) along with "unschooling". Our definition of unschooling is that the kids will do educational work that Mom has not scheduled. If I have a headache, the kids do work that doesn't require my help (watch educational DVDs, computer programming, educational software, read a book, do an art project, etc.). If I'm feeling OK, then we may do something together (that they suggest) or I might just sit and read for a few hours.

Here's what the week might look like:
Monday - PE in the am, unschooling after lunch, dance in the late afternoon.
Tuesday - assigned schoolwork until mid-afternoon, when I take Ga'Hoole Girl to a friends' to go to dance class, Wild Man and I go grocery shopping, then Wild Man and I go to the dance studio for my dance class.
Wednesday - assigned schoolwork
Thursday - Women's Bible Study in am, Wild Man's reading lesson in early afternoon, unschooling the rest of the time.
Friday- assigned schoolwork

I'm also trying to figure out how to organize my work for the week. I'm still rather frustrated by the fact that things get completely out of whack when I have a headache. But, I think I'm going to set up a schedule and work around it when I don't feel well.

Monday - desk (bills, organize papers, etc.)
Tuesday - bake bread, clean living room, grocery shopping
Wednesday - laundry, mop
Thursday - clean living room (again)
Friday - clean bathtub

We'll have to see how this works out. Hopefully, I can find a balance that gives us enough structure to get done the basics and enough flexibility to have fun!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

September 8

I got my tap shoes yesterday. I had a wicked migraine Thursday night and was pretty tired and moderately headache-y yesterday, but I had to try them out for a few minutes. So far, so good. I just love them. I love to dance around and make such fun tapping sounds. This is going to be quite an adventure. Today, I didn't practice my tap dancing at all because I've had something of a headache and I've had lots of muscle pain. But, I'm hoping for a better day tomorrow.





Of course, you may be asking what business someone with chronic headaches has taking a tap class! I'm not sure. I talked to the teacher the first day so that she doesn't worry if I miss classes. This is the only serious commitment in my schedule - I have a back-up plan for everything else for headache days. But, my doctor has been really encouraging me to get regular exercise. Most of the time, I go on the treadmill. Since we got rid of cable, though, the treadmill is not as much fun. So, even if I miss an occasional class or don't practice every single day, I still get the benefit of regular exercise. Of course, right now I'm also dealing with shingles. Yesterday, Mr. Math Teacher and I walked the 1/2 mile to the library and we had to stop for a break about a block before we got there. Today the pain hasn't been as bad, so maybe it's going to ease up soon.





Knitting update:


Here are the socks that I recently finished. Aren't they fun? I made them out of left-over yarn from a sweater project. I am probably going to wear them as slippers around the house. I am currently working on a pair of socks for a woman who I met on a homeschooling forum. Other than that, I have a few projects, but I can't mention them because the potential recipients are readers of my blog - now I've got you guessing, huh!!

Book reviews:

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. This book was written before (and takes place before) The Da Vinci Code. This is another real nail-biter. The whole book takes course in the place of about 24 hours. The setting is Vatican City. The plot centers around a secret anti-Catholic group called the Illuminati. Again, there are codes, symbols, and lots of Medieval/Renaissance art and history references. There's also plenty of intrigue. I found myself having trouble putting the book down; I wanted to know what happened next. Dan Brown's apparent anti-Catholic bias comes out again in this book. The climax of the book is essentially a revelation of serious hypocrisy in one of the characters (read the book to find out which one!). So, I recommend it if you can read past Dan Brown's view of the Catholic Church. Remember, the book is fiction; Dan Brown is not God!

My reading has been rather curtailed lately because of the start of doing schoolwork with the kids. I have found myself at the computer for hours setting up the year's schedule. I hope that the schedule is pretty much in the computer so that I can spend my free time reading and scrapbooking. But, because of my homeschool planning, I have two other books to review:

The Cambridge Music Guide This book is used as a textbook in some university Music Appreciation classes. I'm using it as a "spine" for music history. We are studying world history over the next two years, and I'm trying to add art and music history, not only to learn the history but also to learn how art and music affect history and vice versa. The first part of the book is about music notation and instrumentation. The second part is music history starting with Medieval times. I don't really like that they don't address Ancient Music at all, but it's already a pretty hefty book and the information available about Ancient Music is limited. So, I'm using internet sources for the time being. I will probably assign some of the first part of the book, particularly parts about instruments, during the time before we get to Medieval history. This book is written at an adult level, but I think that Ga'Hoole Girl will do just fine with it as long as I don't expect her to read too much at a time. I will also need to pre-read to verify that the assigned passages are appropriate. Overall, I think it will be an excellent resource.

The Usborne Internet-Linked Introduction to Art This is the book that I'm using as the art history "spine" for Ga'Hoole Girl. It starts with an introduction to art then moves on to art history. There isn't a huge amount of information about art history, per se, in the book, but it provides an internet site with lots of pertinent links. So far, Ga'Hoole Girl has done just a few pages in the book, but seems to like it. The reading level is geared for about middle school. So far, this also seems to be a good resource.

Movie Reviews:

Breakfast at Tiffany's - Believe it or not, I had never seen this movie. Part of the reason that I watched it was just for cultural literacy! I enjoyed it, although not as much as some others. Audrey Hepburn is, of course, amazing. The plot was quite interesting and full of surprises. The acting was very good. The movie is unrated, so I let the kids watch part of it with me until there were just too many s*xual innuendos. I recommend it for adults.

The Mirror Has Two Faces - This movie stars Barbra Streisand and Jeff Bridges as university professors who marry, but not for love. Of course, things get complicated when love does show up - but I won't tell you when or where! This movie was very good: the acting was top-notch, the plot was interesting, the characters were (for the most part) well-developed. There is some s*xuality in the movie, but it's not excessive. Overall, I highly recommend this movie for adults.


The first week . . . or two!

Well, we are done with the first week of school - although, technically, it's the second week. In any case, week 1 did not go well, so we had two days of unschooling and got back to our regularly scheduled schoolwork this week.





We actually managed to finish everything on the schedule for this week and even to start some of next week's work. We just finished Week 7 of Core 6 which is Ancient Greece. The kids each did a notebook page on The Trojan War and a page on Alexander the Great. We had some trouble with the map and timeline work. I hadn't cleaned the Mark-up Map since last year and the stuff that's written on it won't come off. So, one of my jobs for this weekend is to get the map cleaned and ready to use.





For grammar, Ga'Hoole girl is supposed to memorize the 53 most common prepositions. She asked for my help, so we came up with some rather fun ideas. I wrote the prepositions on index cards and had her alphabetize them. Then, we mixed them up and played a game where each player, in turn, has to pick a card and them use letter dice to spell the preposition on the card. The player gets points based on the numbers on each letter die (kind of like Scrabble). Ga'Hoole girl really likes the game because we played it Thursday with M&Ms - one M&M/point. Of course, she beat the pants off me.





The most interesting thing that Ga'Hoole Girl came up with is for me to write the prepositions in Gnommish and for her to translate them. Gnommish is a made-up language from the Artemis Fowl series of books. The first time we did this, I wrote the prepositions by hand (only the first 11). But, I found out about a really cool website from a homeschooling magazine: http://www.omniglot.com/. this website has alphabets from lots of "real" and "pretend" languages. So, they have Gnommish, Hylian (from the Zelda video games), Romulan, Klingon, etc. Now, I can make her worksheets very quickly and easily. And, she really likes it.





We are still working through Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day of Creation for science. But, I have added in some other science activities to provide some interest. We are using the Journey North website (http://www.learner.org/jnorth/) to study whooping cranes and monarchs and their migration patterns. We are also going on a field trip to the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo in a couple of weeks. The last time we went there was about 5 years ago so we are looking forward to getting to see it all again. We also got an Antworks ant farm. The kids are really excited about it! Their science assignments next week are for each of them to research a topic on ants and then present it to the rest of the family at the end of the week. [I'm not a fan of complete unschooling, but I do like to follow their interests when possible.]




Ga'Hoole Girl is still working on her video game program. She has also started her art class this week. Tuesday was mostly paperwork, and they started linoleum after that. Unfortunately, she is frustrated with her project and with a few of the other kids (one of the boys is particularly annoying, she says). We live a few blocks from the school, so she walks or bikes to and from class. She is there from 8 to 8:40 every morning. I also had her do some art history this week. She looked at Ancient Greek art and decided to make a piece of pottery for her art piece this week (every couple of weeks I have her make a piece of artwork in the style we're studying).


Wild Man is coming along very nicely on his reading. He reads several pages each day out of his reader, along with a few pages of Explode the Code. Then, he and I use letter dice or something else interesting to go over any new concepts or words he's having trouble with. Wild Man is supposed to go to Singapore 3, but I ordered the intensive practice book to go with Singapore 2B. We're going to use that to go over some of the concepts again. One of the issues I've noticed is that his math skills are great, but his language skills don't always connect. When I read a word problem to him, he can often figure out the answer in his head and can give me the answer, but can't tell me how he did it. He can calculate, but has trouble getting information from the math part of his brain to the language part. He also tends to mix up the order of things. For example, I read a word problem to me and he told me that the answer is 8. But, he had real trouble telling me that the equation is 32 divided by 4. He wrote 4 divided by 32 - but, after he looked at it for a minute or two, he figured out that it wasn't right. Anyway, I'm going to be working with him on the language part of math.


When he has been playing outside, he has been playing Greek Soldier. Actually, he occasionally is a Trojan soldier, but more often likes to be a Spartan. He used an old ice cream bucket to make himself a helmet. Then, he used paper to make a red "horse hair" fringe on the top of the helmet. It is really cool to watch him. If anyone were to ask, I'd have to call his playtime part of school since he's playing Ancient Greek soldiers! Next week, we start learning about Rome. I'm sure he'll want to be a Roman soldier then. Homeschool PE starts on Monday, so Wild Man is excited about that. Ga'Hoole Girl doesn't go all the time. This week, they are going to play soccer, so Ga'Hoole Girl will probably stay home.


On Thursday, we went to the first Women's Bible Study of the year. Ga'Hoole Girl is their babysitter. This was her first time all alone with the baby and she did great. She even changed his diaper all by herself. The study itself is a Beth Moore DVD study on the fruit of the Spirit. I had a really good time. I just have to pray that Beth Moore and her big hair don't drive me too crazy (let's just say I'm NOT the big hair type!!).



So, my house is a disaster, but we had a pretty good week of school. Today is supposed to be house cleaning, but my head hurts some, and my hip (shingles) hurts a lot. So, we have a messy house again next week. Ah, well. The kids are learning, so we're doing OK.